Yankees organizational depth: Shortstop • 01.12.11
In certain corners of the Yankees fan base, Derek Jeter is perhaps the least beloved icon in baseball. A vocal minority — at least I think it’s a minority — is ready to give up on him after the first rather pedestrian season of his career. The Yankees aren’t so pessimistic, having just locked Jeter into a three-year deal with a fourth-year option, but they are preparing for life without their captain. The Yankees top two picks in last year’s draft were shortstops.
In the big leagues
Hard to believe Jeter is only one year removed from being a legitimate MVP candidate. Concerns about production are inevitable when a player reaches his late 30s, but Jeter seemed to be charging into his twilight years before a sudden step back last season. Defensively, he’s fundamental rather than dynamic, and the Yankees seem willing to accept those limitations. Offensively, it’s hard to say what Jeter is at this point. If he falls somewhere between his ’09 and ’10 levels of production, he’ll remain one of the better offensive shortstops in the game. He showed signs of bouncing back in September, but another step in the wrong direction could be a real problem and would almost certainly force Joe Girardi to drop his captain to the bottom of the lineup.
On the verge
The Yankees know what they have in Ramiro Pena. He’s a terrific defensive player with a little bit of speed, but his bat is limited to say the least. The shortstop who seems to have their attention is Eduardo Nunez, who last year hit .289/.340/.381 with 23 stolen bases in Triple-A, then held his own after a late-season major league call-up. He seems to have made defensive progress last season as well. Beyond Nunez, there’s a large gap before the next wave of significant shortstop potential reaches the upper levels. Jose Pirela, who should open in Double-A, isn’t a no-name, but his ceiling seems closer to a utility infielder than a starting shortstop.
Deep in the organization
It was considered something of a surprise when the Yankees took a shot on Cito Culver as their first-round draft pick last summer. They backed that pick by selecting another teenage shortstop, Angelo Gumbs, in the second round. Three years earlier, the Yankees took a 10th-round shot on a high school shortstop named Carmen Angelini — they knew he was raw, but thought he might improve too much in college for them to ever have a shot at him when he was older — only to see that pick fizzle through bad numbers and a hip injury. Instead, the long-term, in-house future of the shortstop position might rest on the two kids who turned pro just a few months ago.
Organizational depth chart
My own rough guess. It’s far too early for the Yankees to settle on who will be where next season.
New York: Derek Jeter
Scranton/WB: Ramiro Pena/Eduardo Nunez
Trenton: Jose Pirela
Tampa: Kelvin Castro
Charleston: Carmen Angelini
The big league depth chart at shortstop doesn’t extend much beyond Nunez and Pena. Kevin Russo and Reegie Corona have experience at the position, but both are better suited elsewhere. If Jeter gets hurt, Nunez seems to be the best long-term solution. If Pena wins the utility job, he’ll be the guy to get occasional starts here and there.
In the lower levels, the shortstop situation could change significantly by mid-season. Culver will probably open in extended spring training with a eye toward making his Charleston debut in early June. Until then, an organizational shortstop — Jose Mojica, Emerson Landoni, Angelini — could get the Low-A job. Up in High-A, Castro is the natural fit for the job despite hitting just .224 in Charleston last year. If not him, perhaps Walter Ibarra or Addison Maruszak could return to Tampa, but as an everyday player this time. There is also the chance that Angelini could impress in spring training and get the Tampa job out of camp. Basically, the shortstop position in the lower levels is remarkably flexible heading into spring training. The upper levels will have Luis Nunez, Doug Bernier and Justin Snyder to fill some shortstop time off the bench.
Associated Press photo of Jeter, headshots of Jeter, Nunez and Angelini (milb.com doesn’t have a Culver headshot yet and I don’t want to steal one from another site)
The Yankees first-round pick in 2009 was also a high school position player, and Slade Heathcott was moved cautiously in his first full season. Heathcott opened last year in extended spring training and didn’t join Low-A Charleston until June.
Vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman said the Yankees will “most likely” do the same thing this season with both Culver and second-round pick Angelo Gumbs. Both are 18 years old and developing at key defensive positions. Rushing them is not in the plans.
The same sort of caution could be true for fourth-round pick Mason Williams, a 19-year-old center fielder who played five Gulf Coast League games last season. Newman said the Yankees will “see where he is” in spring training before deciding where Williams opens the season.
Newman said there’s “no question” Culver will continue to be developed as a shortstop, but Gumbs will be tested at different positions. He could see some time at second base, and center field is a legitimate option. “We’re still in the evaluation stage,” Newman said.
• Speaking of Heathcott, he hit .258/.359/.352 with 101 strikeouts in 76 games with Charleston last season. It’s entirely possible he’ll return to Charleston for the beginning of the 2011 season. “We’ll see,” Newman said.
• Last year’s third-round draft pick, Rob Segedin, was selected out of Tulane, so he’s older and more advanced than Culver and Gumbs. Segedin will open in Charleston, where he’ll continue to play third base while also getting some reps in right field.
• If David Adams, Corban Joseph and Brad Suttle all open the season in Double-A, they’ll have to mix and match positions, including some reps at DH, to give all three regular at-bats. Newman said there’s a chance one of those three could open at a different level, but it’s a “low” chance.
• Outfielder Cody Johnson, acquired from the Braves this winter, is most likely heading for Double-A instead of Triple-A. He’s been in Double-A for part of the past two seasons, but he has yet to hit above .189 at that level. The guy does have some power, though.
• Don’t rule out lefty Shaeffer Hall for Double-A. He opened last season in Low-A Charleston but pitched his way to High-A Tampa where he had nine wins and a 3.91 ERA in 15 appearances. This is only his second full season, but Hall is already 23 years old, so the Yankees might push him to Trenton to open the season.
• The Yankees have not decided where shortstop Carmen Angelini will open the season — Tampa or Charleston — but this is clearly a season when Angelini needs to finally show something at the plate. “He needs to get it going,” Newman said. Culver and Gumbs are already overshadowing him in the lower levels.
• Pretty much every scouting report you’ll ever read about Graham Stoneburner suggests his ultimate role could be as a reliever rather than a starter. The Yankees, though, will continue to use Stoneburner out of the rotation, and they believe that he could remain a starter if his changeup continues to develop. Stoneburner had a 2.41 ERA between Tampa and Charleston last season, and the Yankees won’t change his role until he pitches himself out of the rotation. “The game is smarter than us,” Newman said.
• I mentioned Anderson Feliz in yesterday’s look at the Yankees second base depth, and Newman sounds excited about the young middle infielder. “He’s a good player,” Newman said. “He’s got hitting ability. He’s got power. He can run.” Feliz is probably going to open in Charleston.
• Fu-Lin Kuo, a third baseman out of Taiwan, could be developing into a legitimate prospect. “He looked like it at times last year,” Newman said. Last season Kuo hit .243 in the Gulf Coast League, but that was his first season in the United States, and Newman said it’s hard to make much of those stats because of the significant cultural adjustment. The Yankees saw some flashes of promise at the plate. Kuo is probably going to open the season back in extended spring training, but he’s a player to keep the name in the back of your mind for now.
Pretty sure Pete took that picture of Heathcott. I just found it in the blog archives.
Minor league injury updates • 01.11.11
This morning, Yankees vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman was good enough to provide some updates on a few of the injured players in the Yankees minor league system.
Two quick updates: Damon Sublett missed most of last year with a thumb injury, but he was back by the end of the season and is expected to be fine for spring training. Jairo Heredia, who seems to have been perpetually injured, made it through last season and is expected to still be healthy heading into spring training.
Back in December, Nunez was hit in the face by a botched bunt attempt in the Dominican Winter League. He missed some time, but he’s back on the field, playing shortstop again in the DWL postseason. He should be 100 percent in spring training.
In late July, Corona had to be carried off the field after a violent collision on the final play of the game. The diagnosis was ultimately a broken humerus bone in his right arm. Corona is in Tampa, but he won’t be healthy enough to open the season on an active roster. He’ll likely be limited to designated hitter before he’s ready to play the field.
Initially labeled as a sprain, Adams fractured his ankle sliding into second base back in May. He missed the rest of the season, but Adams is healthy again and should be ready to open the season, probably back in Trenton.
A supplemental first-round pick in 2008, Bleich was eight games into the Double-A season when he underwent surgery to repair a torn left labrum. He’s expected to pitch again in 2011, but Newman said it’s unlikely Bleich will be able to open the season.
Torn hip labrum
A significant risk-reward pick back in 2007, Angelini struggled through his first three professional seasons, then lost all of last year because of a hip injury and a few smaller lower-body ailments. Angelini is healthy again, but it’s uncertain whether he’ll open in Tampa or return to Charleston, where he played all of 2008 and part of 2009.
Knee and shoulder surgeries
A fifth-round pick out of Vanderbilt in 2009, Cotham has pitched eight professional innings, but he’s missed most of two seasons because of knee surgery followed by shoulder surgery to repair his labrum. Cotham showed quite a bit of promise before the injuries — “Good arm, strike thrower,” Newman said — but shoulders are tough and Cotham has missed a lot of time. He’s throwing again, but Newman said they won’t know much until he gets into spring training.
State of the Yankees: Shortstop • 02.12.10
As you’re well aware, Derek Jeter is in the final year of his contract. He’s 35 years old, he’ll be 36 by the end of the season, and the Yankees have a long-standing policy of not negotiating extensions until the winter.* And so, the face of the Yankees will go through the season as a lame-duck shortstop, but there’s no reason to believe he won’t be back for 2011 and beyond. It’s just a matter of how much money and how many years. The Yankees have a handful of promising young shortstops knocking on the door to the big leagues, but I wouldn’t count on any of them taking the Captain’s place.
Starter: Derek Jeter
Backup: Ramiro Pena
Veteran insurance: none
Almost ready: Eduardo Nunez
Low rising: Jose Pirela
True, Jeter is well into his mid-30s, but he’s also coming off a season in which he won both a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger, made his 10th all-star team and finished third in MVP voting. He’s been the American League’s Silver Slugger at shortstop each of the past four years. What can I say? The guy’s good. Behind him, the Yankees have a defensive shortstop in Pena and an offensive shortstop in Nunez, plus utility man Reegie Corona has considerable experience at the position. For now, Pena is probably the better option should something happen to Jeter, but Nunez could easily pass him if he can improve his defense (33 errors last season) and his plate discipline (only 22 walks). Pirela is probably the top shortstop in the lower levels, partially because Carmen Angelini’s development has been a struggle.
Worst-case scenario: It makes sense to worry about injuries and a lack of production from most 35-year-old shortstops, but Jeter has shown no signs of such problems. That said, if he does stumble this season, it could make for a messy contract negotiation in the offseason. Replacing Jeter from within — even slightly — would be impossible if Pena’s bat can’t handle prolonged exposure to the big leagues or if Nunez can’t handle his first real taste of Triple-A.
Best-case scenario: Jeter plays like the guy everyone is used to seeing. He puts himself in the discussion for another Gold Glove, he runs away with another Silver Slugger and he leads this team to another World Championship. When it’s over, the Yankees settle on a contract that comes together easily, with very little back and forth. All the while, Nunez continues to rebuild his prospect status, and Angelini finally starts to hit and finally gets his career moving.
The future: Pena’s glove is exciting, Nunez’s bat has come to life and Pirela hit .295 as a 19-year-old, but Jeter remains the past, present and future of the Yankees organization. The lineup might revolve around Mark Teixeira and the pitching staff falls in line behind CC Sabathia, but this is still Jeter’s team. I don’t know how much it will take, and I’m not sure it matters. One way or another, Jeter will be back in 2011, you can bet on it. Shortstop will be his as long as he can be productive at the position. The Yankees aren’t waiting for someone to take the torch, they’re waiting for Jeter to hand it off.
An attempt at the complete depth chart
An educated guess, but just a guess
Scranton: Eduardo Nunez
Trenton: Walter Ibbara (maybe Justin Snyder or Luis Nunez gets regular at-bats?)
Tampa: Jose Pirela (with Addison Maruszak in a versatile infield)
Charleston: Carmen Angelini
Extended: Jose Mojica (unless he swaps places with Angelini)
* In my opinion, the negotiation policy makes sense. The only way it hurts anyone’s feelings is if an exception is made for one player and not another. That’s why the Yankees can’t negotiate with Jeter just because he’s Jeter. It would make everyone else feel second-class, and the policy lets Jeter know that there’s nothing to read into the decision to wait until the offseason.